Justice Reform

Language Proposal Desires to Remove Negative Titling of Inmates in San Francisco

Those released from incarceration are faced with many struggles after their release. They hope for change and redemption, and fear that they will not be accepted back into society. These fears are compacted by the way they are portrayed in society. The Board of Supervisors in San Francisco intends to clean up the language used in the criminal justice system. The city and county of San Francisco received a proposal that would cause words such as “felon,” “offender,” “convict,” and “parolee” to be exchanged for more accepting language that does not emphasize the objectification of people, and focuses on more neutral and positive ways to describe these individuals.

Instances of more acceptable language is “returning resident” or “formerly imprisoned/incarcerated person”. Instead of calling someone a “parolee” they would be called a “supervised individual.” A “young offender” or “delinquent” would be described as a “young individual affected by the judicial system.”

With one in every five Californians having a criminal record, this change of language can make a drastic difference. There is a stigma attached to such language that can be incredibly dehumanizing. They want to return to their families and contribute to their communities, but are facing so many barriers hindering their rehabilitation. The Board of Supervisors believes wording with negative connotations should not be one of those barriers. The proposal stresses that “Language shapes the ideas, perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and actions of individuals, societies and governments. People-first language places the individual before the criminal record by using neutral, objective, and non-pejorative language.”

The Sentencing Commission, the Reentry Council of the Bay Area, and the Youth Commission of San Francisco – a group of 17 youths aged 12 to 23 – passed resolutions supporting the altered language. However, the proposal has not yet been signed by Mayor London Breed.